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World Cup 2010: Fears of xenophobic blacklash

South Africans warn of possible violence against foreigners in aftermath of World Cup.

South Africans protest xenophobic violence
South Africans protest against the xenophobic attacks that killed 13 people in 2008. There are fears that after the World Cup, there will be another wave of the violence against foreigners. (Pieter Bauermeister/GlobalPost)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — This has been championed as Africa's World Cup — hosted by South Africa, but belonging to the entire continent.

Yet many African migrants living in South Africa say they are nervous about the possibility of a deadly wave of violence against foreigners after the soccer tournament ends on July 11, and the international attention disappears.

Rumors that xenophobic violence will erupt after the World Cup have persisted in townships and migrant-populated areas of Johannesburg in the last few months, and advocacy groups say the government needs to do more to address the threat.

“During public meetings, you’ll hear people say, ‘These migrants are taking our jobs, taking our homes.’ Some people even go further and say ‘They’re taking our ladies,’” said Marc Gbaffou, chairman of the African Diaspora Forum, a Johannesburg group that represents migrants from more than 20 African countries.

“They say, ‘After the World Cup, we will show them,’” said Gbaffou, who is from Ivory Coast.

This is a chilling message for African foreigners living in South Africa, a country still reeling from a wave of horrific xenophobic attacks in May 2008, in which 62 people were killed and more than 100,000 displaced. Violence against foreigners has continued sporadically since then, for example with the murders of Somali shopkeepers in townships and attacks by fruitpickers in the Western Cape town of De Doorns, where locals accused Zimbabweans of stealing their jobs.

“We have to take this seriously, when people tell you, ‘After the World Cup we’ll attack you,’” said Gbaffou, whose group was formed after the violence in 20008. “There is fear.”

He worries that Yeoville, where his group is based, could be targeted in an outbreak of xenophobic attacks because of its concentration of migrants. Last month, a street festival featuring costumed dancers and musicians from numerous countries was held in Yeoville to celebrate the area’s diverse African culture and to take a community stand against xenophobia.

Gbaffou said the African Diaspora Forum has been trying to start a dialogue with various levels of governments, to set up communication channels and discuss strategies in case there are attacks. The group recently sent a letter to embassies in South Africa as well as the African Union and Pan-African Parliament, asking them to put pressure on the South African government to talk about this issue.

Read more GlobalPost World Cup Coverage

“Regrettably, because of the World Cup, the government doesn’t want to talk about something negative. But we have to do something,” Gbaffou said.

"The Elders,” a group of senior world leaders that includes Nelson Mandela, his wife Graca Machel, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and former Ireland president Mary Robinson, has expressed concern about the possibility of renewed xenophobic violence in South Africa, noting at a meeting in Johannesburg last month that dwindling job opportunities after the World Cup might spark violence.

The Consortium for Migrants and Refugees in South Africa has also warned of mounting threats of mass xenophobic violence after the World Cup is over.